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The big question: When is it OK for former elected officials in Dallas to do business with the city?

Omar Narvaez, City Council District 6, listens to a speaker during the city council meeting Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, at Dallas City Hall.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Omar Narvaez, who represents District 6 on the council, said Tuesday amending the ethics ordinance will help former City Hall insiders still be able to work with the city — even after serving on council or a board or commission.

Dallas elected officials — and other city appointees — have to wait a year after their term is up to do business with the city. If they serve on a board or commission after leaving office — they have to wait another year.

One Dallas city council member wants to change that, but other officials say they don’t see the benefit to residents.

District 6 Council Member Omar Narvaez started the discussion on amending a city ethics ordinance that says former council, board or commission members can’t do business with the city for at least one year after their term is finished.

During Tuesday’s Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee meeting, Narvaez said the amendment would fix what he believes to be a barrier to working with the city — and serving on government bodies.

“It basically brings former council members, after their one year, to the…exact same [level] as folks who have never served on the city council before,” Narvaez said during meeting.

Right now, if a former-council member sits on a city board or commission they still have to wait a year after that term ends to start doing business with the city. Narvaez says that is an issue.

“I don’t think they all realize and know that they may not be allowed to do business in front of the city again when their done with their new service on a board or commission,” Narvaez said.

But it was clear that most of the other members on the committee had questions about Narvaez’s proposal.

“In looking at this…I don’t know if I understand all of the implications,” District 13 Council Member Gay Donnell Willis said. “If we could take some time to consider this a little bit longer.”

Willis introduced a motion to delay the amendment process until some more questions could be answered. District 9 Council Member Paula Blackmon agreed.

“I do think that the extra time some opportunity to really understand what we are trying to achieve, because I am not understanding it,” Blackmon said. “Is there a movement to change this or is it for one or two off people?”

District 11 Council Member Jaynie Schultz called into question how different connections made while in office — or serving on a board — could give elected officials a leg up.

“We have an extreme advantage over anyone else because of the relationships that we have built during our time in service, whether its being on a commission or…as an elected official,” Schultz asked Narvaez. “Does that not skew the outcomes…due to that relationship?”

Narvaez told Schultz that at least one of the amendment options still leaves a one-year ban – and that the amendment would also clean up some narrow language in the current ordinance.

“It still leaves that one-year ban for council members,” Narvaez said. “What this does is makes former council members, so after your one-year ban you can serve, and you don’t end up with another one-year ban.”

Still, Schultz didn’t seem completely sold on the idea.

“We’ve got right now…a bit of a protective bubble around us because of that year,” Schultz said. “And I would hate to pierce it without…a very clear reason that I don’t understand yet.”

City Hall observers also weighed in on the discussion on social media. One post on X, formerly Twitter, liked the council to grifters.

That comment was reposted by District 12 Council Member Cara Mendelsohn who added this caption:

“How would this change benefit the residents of Dallas? It wouldn’t. This is a gross attempt to allow insiders the ability to sell their influence at city hall.”

District 14 Council Member Paul Ridley said he would support a delay in amending the ordinance.

“Theres a benefit to former council members in that it liberalizes their ability to lobby, not for compensation immediately after leaving office,” Ridley said. “I think time to consider the ramifications of this is worthwhile.”

The committee voted unanimously to defer the item until its August meeting.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.